With all the ways you can spend time managing multiple online social network profiles and updates, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the nagging pressure to keep things current and active. I've decided to relieve some of my stress by reducing the number of sites that I maintain.
The reduction was assisted by a decision of a popular create-your-own-social-network site to adopt a subscription model and eliminate its free service. As much as I like the platform, I don't think the limited activity that it generates for the almost 150 members that have joined is worth the $36 per year that it would cost to maintain the site. I'm trying to encourage those folks to join an even larger community at my forum site which has evolved into a social network in its own right and is free of the limitations of third-party ownership since I own a license to the code and run it on my own servers. You can read about the transition here and I encourage you to join if you haven't already.
I'm actually happy about the change. It helps me to strengthen my overall business in a number of ways because I've learned two core lessons from the experience:
Social networks need a reason for people to be social. The platform that I was using (Ning), is a great turnkey solution for creating a network with outstanding management features and individual personalization options for each member. The most outstanding functionality means nothing if you have very little member activity. Many of my members only posted promotional fluff in an effort to advertise to a community of advertisers. Discussions never really took off and few people commented on the even fewer substantial posts or articles that were submitted. Some folks did a great job of personalizing their profile pages while others added nothing beyond what was required. In the end, I didn't do a good enough job of providing members with a reason to become active contributors.
Don't get too reliant on free–have an exit plan. The Freemium to Premium model works well for some companies (Evernote and Flickr are good examples), but if the entire service is free and becomes exceedingly popular, free may become impractical for a long-term business. Use and maintenance of any online service requires some degree of funding just to keep things operational. As great as Ning was and despite earlier promises by Ning representatives to keep the platform free, the costs of what free meant became too much of burden and they decided to adopt a subscription model.
What does this mean for all the great content that was created by network administrators? Thankfully, Ning has an exporter tool that you can use to save your content in XML format. I'm sure this was provided to avoid the negative publicity of eliminating their free model and restricting content migration. This is a good move as it allows those who don't want to pay to leave on a positive note and they might consider coming back if things don't work out elsewhere. My forum is good enough to replace what I had on Ning, so it makes for a perfect exit strategy.
Overall, I'm a little disappointed with having to leave a platform that had so much promise; I'm really concerned about those large niche social networks that are faced with a difficult dilemma because they have no place to go. As for me, I'll make a few changes, encourage some member transitions and work on building an environment where the Black Internet Marketing Forum really begins to thrive and grow.